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Introduction: Transitions from late prehistory to early historic periods in mainland Southeast Asia, c. early to mid-first millennium CE

  • Stephen A. Murphy and Miriam T. Stark


Studies of early Southeast Asia focus largely on its ‘classical states’, when rulers and their entourages from Sukhothai and Ayutthaya (Thailand), Angkor (Cambodia), Bagan (Myanmar), Champa and Dai Viet (Vietnam) clashed, conquered, and intermarried one another over an approximately six-century-long quest for legitimacy and political control. Scholarship on Southeast Asia has long held that such transformations were largely a response to outside intervention and external events, or at least that these occurred in interaction with a broader world system in which Southeast Asians played key roles. As research gathered pace on the prehistory of the region over the past five decades or so, it has become increasingly clear that indigenous Southeast Asian cultures grew in sophistication and complexity over the Iron Age in particular. This has led archaeologists to propose much greater agency in regard to the selective adaptation of incoming Indic beliefs and practices than was previously assumed under early scholarship of the nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth century.


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1 See reviews in Reynolds, Craig, ‘A new look at old Southeast Asia’, Journal of Asian Studies 54, 2 (1995): 419–46; Lieberman, Victor, Strange parallels: Southeast Asia in global context, c.800–1830, vol. 1: Integration on the mainland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

2 See for example, Coedès, George, The Indianized states of Southeast Asia, ed. Vella, Walter F., trans. Cowing, Susan B. (Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1968).

3 Hutterer, Karl, ‘Early Southeast Asia: Old wine in new skins? A review article’, Journal of Asian Studies 41, 3 (1982): 559–70.

4 Stark, Miriam, ‘Early mainland Southeast Asian landscapes in the first millennium A.D.’, Annual Review of Anthropology 35 (2006): 407–32.

5 For example, Bellina, Bérénice and Glover, Ian, ‘The archaeology of early contact with India and the Mediterranean world, from the fourth century BC to the fourth century AD’, in Southeast Asia: From prehistory to history, ed. Glover, Ian and Bellwood, Peter (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004), pp. 6888 ; Gupta, Sunil, ‘The Bay of Bengal interaction sphere (1000 BC–AD 500)’, Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association 25, 3 (2005): 2130 ; Hung, Hsiao-chun, Nguyen, Kim Dung, Bellwood, Peter and Carson, Mike T., ‘Coastal connectivity: Long-term trading networks across the South China Sea’, Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 8, 3 (2013): 384404 ; Ray, Himanshu Prabha, ‘Multi-religious linkages across the Bay of Bengal during the first millennium CE’, in Before Siam: Essays in art and archaeology, ed. Revire, Nicholas and Murphy, Stephen A. (Bangkok: River Books; Siam Society, 2014), pp. 134–51.

6 Vickery, Michael, Society, economics, and politics in Pre-Angkor Cambodia: The 7th–8th centuries (Tokyo: Centre for East Asian Cultural Studies for Unesco; Toyo Bunko, 1998).

7 Lost kingdoms: Hindu–Buddhist sculpture of early Southeast Asia, ed. Guy, John (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014).

8 Coedès, The Indianized states; Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra, Ancient Indian colonisation in South-East Asia, Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad Honorarium Lectures, 1953–1954 (Baroda: M.S. University of Baroda Press, 1955).

9 Hutterer, ‘Early Southeast Asia’: 562.

10 William Southworth, ‘The coastal states of Champa’ (pp. 211–13), and Miriam Stark, ‘Pre-Angkorian and Angkorian Cambodia’ (pp. 89–119), in Glover and Bellwood, Southeast Asia from prehistory to history.

11 Eyre, Chureekamol Onsuwan, ‘Social variation and dynamics in metal age and protohistoric central Thailand: A regional perspective’, Asian Perspectives 49, 1 (2011): 4384 .

12 Rispoli, Fiorella, Ciarla, Roberto and Pigott, Vincent C., ‘Establishing the prehistoric cultural sequence for the Lopburi region, central Thailand’, Journal of World Prehistory 26, 2 (2013): 101–71; Eyre (‘Social variation and dynamics’) identifies this localism at a regional level in central Thailand as well.

13 See Higham, this vol.; and Rispoli et al., ‘Establishing the prehistoric’.

14 Bellina, Bérénice, ‘Beads, social change and interaction between India and Southeast Asia’, Antiquity 77, 296 (2003): 285–97; Glover, Ian and Bellina, Bérénice, ‘Ban Don Ta Phet and Khao Sam Kaeo: The earliest Indian contacts re-assessed’, in Early interactions between South and Southeast Asia: Reflections on cross-cultural exchange, ed. Manguin, Pierre-Yves, Mani, A. and Wade, Geoff (Singapore: ISEAS; New Delhi: Manohar, 2011), pp. 1746 .

15 Pollock, Sheldon I., The language of the gods in the world of men: Sanskrit, culture and power in premodern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), pp. 123–5.

16 Battacharya, Kamaleswar, ‘The religions of ancient Cambodia’, in Sculpture of Angkor and ancient Cambodia: Millennium of glory, ed. Jessup, Helen I. and Zéphir, Thierry (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1997), pp. 36–9.

17 Lavy, Paul, ‘As in heaven, so on earth: The politics of Viṣṇu, Śiva and Harihara images in preangkorian Khmer civilisation’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 34, 1 (2003): 26–7; see also Revire, this vol.

18 Barram, Andrew and Glover, Ian, ‘Re-thinking Dvaravati’, in From Homo erectus to the living traditions: Choice of papers from the 11th International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists, ed. Pautreau, Jean-Pierre et al. (Chiang Mai: Silkworm, 2008), pp. 175–82.

19 Gorman, Chester F. and Solheim, Wilhelm G. II, ‘Archaeological salvage program: Northeastern Thailand — first season’, Journal of the Siam Society 54, 2 (1966): 111–81.

20 Following Early South East Asia: Essays in archaeology, history and historical geography, ed. Smith, Ralph B. and Watson, William (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979).


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